‘We do listen!’ Delamar, Baskervill switch votes in nod to citizen angst
Peasants with pitchforks force retreat on property tax increase
BAYBORO – Let’s give the taxpayers of Pamlico County credit for showing up in big numbers (not just once, but twice). The double whammy turnout on June 5 and again on June 19 sent elected officials an unmistakable message: Now is not the time to raise property taxes, especially when county coffers are replete with ample savings.
Immediately after Monday night’s 5 to 2 vote — in which he and Commissioner Missy Baskervill changed their votes from those cast on May 22 that approved an increase – Commissioner Paul Delamar III put the matter succinctly. Looking squarely at the large audience, the no-nonsense chairman said:
“If you don’t think we listen, you’re wrong! We do listen!”
The final tally was: Delamar and Baskerville joining stalwart opponents Ann Holton, Carl Ollison, and Ed Riggs Jr. in voting against higher property taxes, with Candy Bohmert and Pat Prescott sticking with their original May 22 votes in favor of higher property taxes.
See Below for a Letter to the Editor from Bohmert in which she explains her reasoning.
Despite the unprecedented citizen involvement, higher taxes for the coming fiscal year, which begins July 1, seemed all but certain. In fact, Monday night’s ‘packet’ — a bundle of documents typically received by the commissioners prior to every meeting contained an eight-page budget ordinance, which clearly specified the –the higher tax rate of 65 cents per $100 valuation, although it was buried in Section 25 on the last page of the ordinance:
The vote surprised and delighted most of those in the audience. o, with the ink on their budget barely dry, County Manager Tim Buck and Finance Officer Bill Fentress went back to their offices Monday night with a new mandate: Keep the tax rate at 62.5 cents per $100, and make do with approximately $400,000 less than originally planned.
And, if tax revenues and other sources of funds become insufficient, then permission is granted to tap part of the Pamlico County ‘fund balance’ (government-speak for savings), which is currently estimated at $7.5 million.
Tune in next year.
Letter to the Editor
Pamlico County needs more revenue to cope with future
There are always twists and turns in life. I have always been opposed to paying taxes, much less raising them. But I find Pamlico County to be in one of those places best described as ‘between a rock and a hard place.’
Last year, while attending a Pamlico County Commission meeting (before I was elected to that board in November of 2016), I saw a vote for a tax increase fail and my first thought was “good.” Then I realized they were raising a red flag.
I have learned that the County has buildings that, in some cases, are in dire need of repair. Some are superficial, like painting and minor repairs. What is frustrating are the ones that are not up to code, structural problems, and something as simple, but expensive, as a computer program that’s so old you can’t get updates anymore and phone systems that need to be replaced.
The Health Department building, the Court House, the Senior Services building, the Water Department, and even the new Jail — all together need millions of dollars in repairs.
In some cases the repairs have been bid out, contractors responded, the County cancelled because the cost was too high and didn’t want to spend the money. This has happened so many times that it’s hard to get contractors to respond to bid requests and the problems are getting worse.
In this year’s budget, we didn’t cut fat off the top. We cut necessary repairs and department requests. We have asked the employees to do as many band-aid fixes as they can and denied needed equipment.
The recycle program is inefficient and costly. We were asked to expand it by $71,000 to make it better, we didn’t do that. The Sheriff asked for four cars, he got two. The emergency manager needs a vehicle, he didn’t get one. The jail needs new kitchen equipment they didn’t get. The Rescue Squad needs a new ambulance (that’s about $150,000), the Community College needs a new generator, which we turned down. The schools need to increase the bonus for teachers so they can retain faculty. The Fire Departments have new regulations that they have to comply with or close their doors, and they’re asking for a fire tax increase. We may have to, in the near future, look at paying fire fighters!
The aftermath of Hurricane Irene almost put the County into insolvency. We came within two weeks of not being able to meet payroll. It has taken almost five years to collect money from the FEMA and the State Government for disaster relief. We haven’t been able to catch up.
We can manage with no tax increase this year. We can reduce the fund balance some more. What if the re-evaluation doesn’t show growth, but loses value? What if we have another major hurricane hits, or two? What if the General Assembly decides that “wetlands” can no longer be taxed (pending legislation known as HB 89)?
What will we cut next year? Non-mandated services and employee benefits will go on the chopping block. Things like the library, Senior Services, the Recreation Department, the Recycle Program, along with a freeze on new positions will be first. So what is the best way to address our future right now?
I had made the painful decision to raise the tax rate by 2.5 cents — from 62.5 to 65 cents for every $100 of property value. That would have generated about $400,000 over the coming fiscal year. That extra revenue would have provided a cushion so that we could take a breath and look hard at some of the challenges headed our way. I’ve mentioned some, but we still have a lawsuit hanging out there that could affect our Water Department.
The challenges that we face don’t seem small to me. The opportunities to change the way we do business are there, but they won’t come easily. I think the answers are going to be hard and costly. We will see what the future holds and more than anything, I hope I’m wrong.
Candy Bohmert, Township 2
Pamlico County Commissioner